Southern Student Organizing Committee

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Southern Student Organizing Committee came into existence in the mid 1960’s. It was a group made of white college students, and its goal was to promote civil rights for all Americans. The members of SSOC were middle class, college educated, progressives and their views on racial equality often resulted in social and economic hardships. The drawbacks of their progressive visions forced them to reconsider their stances on racial issues and often softened their stances. The SSOC also had connections with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) which operated in the North. The SDS was a more radical group and this mentality prevented them from garnering support in the South which was a much more conservative area. The SSOC encouraged rebellion in the form of nonviolent activities, such as sit-ins. As the group grew they began to take on other issues such as the Vietnam War and poverty to name a few. The anti-war demonstrations became a big part of the groups organized activities. As the group grew in size to take on more issues the focus was lost. There was a disappearance of direction and this ultimately resulted in the group’s demise before the end of the decade.[1]

It was intended in part to be SDS for Southerners and SNCC for white students; at a time when it was dangerous for SDS to attempt to organize in the Deep South, and when SNCC was starting to discuss expelling white volunteers. It was felt that students at the traditionally white and black colleges in the South could be more effectively organized separately than in an integrated student civil rights organization; however this was controversial and initially opposed by advisors like Anne Braden, Sue Thrasher and Archie Allen of the Christian Action Fellowship were among the founders of the group, with the support of Bob Moses and others.[2]

At its inception the group had close ties to controversial Louisville, Kentucky radicals Carl Braden and Anne Braden and their organization, the Southern Conference Education Fund;[3] Later a deliberate effort was made to put some distance between the SSOC and the Bradens to avoid the appearance that the SSOC was a Communist front.

After its founding SSOC came to be formally tied to the SDS as a fraternal organization with a regional mandate in the South, and joint SDS-SSOC chapters existed at some schools like the University of North Carolina. A monthly organ, The New South Student, was published on a regular basis. In 1967 SSOC organizers led by Gene Guerrero and Lynn Wells worked with TWUA on a unionization drive in North Carolina textile mills, involving more than 300 students in the campaign. In 1968 Gene Guerrero and Howard Romaine were among the SSOC activists involved in founding Atlanta's widely circulated underground newspaper, The Great Speckled Bird.

SSOC considered itself a distinctly Southern organization and sometimes embraced traditional Confederate symbols and language. In 1968 SSOC staged a series of antiwar protests called "Southern Days of Secession," in which they urged Southerners to "secede" from the Vietnam War.[4]

Personnel

Founding officers On the weekend of May 9-10, 1964, forty students met in Atlanta to continue the discussion and planning of SSOC.

Later officers

  • Chairman: Howard Romaine, University of Virginia(Charlottesv:ille, Virginia
  • Vice-Chairman: Howard Spencer, Rust College Holly Springs, Mississippi
  • Secretary: Herman Carter, Southern University Baton Rouge Louisiana
  • Treasurer: Roy Money, Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee

Field

Disbanding

“Continuing internal discord over SSOC’s mission, agenda, and tactics had become a serious distraction for the group and undermined its ability to create effective programs or adequately support its members across the region.” -Gregg L. Michel

This discord focused largely on the use of confederate rhetoric and symbolism and the way in which that usage portrayed the group.

SSOC faced external pressures which sought to dissolve the organization. SDS factions struggling for control of the group believed that destroying the SSOC would help their cause.

Progressive Labor Party severed ties with SSOC because they believe that the SSOC was “a hopelessly liberal organization.” They criticized the SSOC for being “bourgeoisie liberalism” meaning that they represented a false liberal ideology because their membership was to middle class. They also criticized the SSOC for their use of confederate symbols, saying that this was offensive to anyone opposed to racism.

In response to the attack, SSOC leaders drafted a series of position papers. Later, at a meeting in Austin, NC the SSOC adopted an attitude of appeasement in seeking to reconcile with the SDS and essentially admitted the validity of many of the SDS’s criticisms. This undermined internal support for the group and furthermore it brought the internal problems of the group to light for the general audience.

The SSOC then voted to allow non-members at its annual membership conference at Mt. Beulah Conference Center in Edwards, Mississippi. This was done in the hope that vocal critics of the SSOC would attend and help in fixing organizational problems. Unfortunately, at this point the SSOC was disorganized and fragmented beyond repair. Even supporters were too ambivalent to fight for its continuation. Both supporters and opponents alike voted to disband the group.[6]

Secret communists

"The Kudzu: Birth and Death in Underground Mississippi" by David Doggett, in Voices from the Underground: Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press ed. by Ken Wachsberger (Tempe, AZ: Mica's Press, 1993), p. 213-232. Doggett, who was at one point a candidate for president of SSOC, states that the conflict inside SSOC was a power struggle between a clique of SSOC headquarters staffers who were secretly Communist Party USA members, and insurgents from the Progressive Labor Party who had gotten control of some of the local branches.

The October League was the result of a fusion in May 1972 of Mike Klonsky’s Los Angeles October League and the Georgia Communist League headed by Lynn Wells. Both of these local collectives originated in the RYM-II section of 1969 SDS. Wells was a leader of the Southern Student Organizing Committee.[7]

References

  1. Student Organizing Committee
  2. [ Michel, Gregg (2008). Struggle for a Better South: The Southern Student Organizing Committee, 1964-1969. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-60256-4.
  3. [Ernst, John and Baldwin, Yvonne. "The not so silent minority: Louisville's antiwar movement, 1966-1975" Journal of Southern History (February 2007). Retrieved April 24, 2010.]
  4. [John Campbell McMillian, Paul Buhle, ed. (2003). The New Left Revisited. Temple University Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-56639-976-0.
  5. SOUTHERN STrIDENT ORGANIZING CTTEE
  6. Dissolution of the SSOC
  7. Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line Workers Vanguard New Left Maoism: Long March to Peaceful Coexistence The October League First Published: Workers Vanguard No. 32, November 9, 1973]